What do cowboys, casual Fridays and Canadian tuxedos have in common? Denim, of course. Denim, initially created as durable workwear for manual labourers has become a universal staple in nearly every person’s closet for decades. With no indication of our denim habits slowing down, the environmental impacts of our increased demands are having a sizeable negative effect on our waterways, non-renewable energy and toxic waste.
With research showing a single pair of jeans using up to 2900 gallons of water, and 4.4 pounds of carbon dioxide , denim is one of the biggest polluters in apparel manufacturing (a major climate villain in it’s own right). So what’s a denim lover to do?
Luckily these 10 ethical clothing brands have got us covered by producing ethically made, sustainable denim, using innovative practices that reduce the environmental footprint of their jeans.
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Introduction of WATER>LESS Denim
On top of having a taste for tradition, the team behind Nudie has an equal passion for sustainability, pointing out that technically the most sustainable option is to not wear any clothes at all (hence, “Nudie”), but if you do happen to find yourself in need of something a little less drafty and a little more publicly appropriate, Nudie jeans are the way to go. The brand works with only organic, fairtrade or recycled cotton, in addition to this, they have turned their sustainability efforts to consumer patterns by offering free repairs, reselling pre-loved jeans and creating their ‘Rebirth’ project which uses 20% post consumer recycled materials to make new designs.
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Warp + Weft are in line with others on this list by reducing their water usage by 98%. In addition to cutting water usage, the brand pushes their sustainability efforts even further by opting to use Dry Ozone technology instead of toxic bleaches on their denim, as well as sourcing toxic free dyes (touting the “most eco friendly of all indigo dyes” from a well known manufacturer in Germany). In addition to reducing water usage and cutting out harmful chemicals, Warp + Weft sources the base of it’s denim (cotton, Lycra and Tencel) from the U.S, significantly reducing the c02 emissions typically occurred when purchasing materials from overseas. Bonus points for making sustainable denim at an accessible price point (under $140).
Nearly 10 years later Kuyichi (named after the Peruvian god of rainbows), remains one of the only brands to use 100% organic cotton in their denim line. Although organic cotton is extra water intensive, Kuyichi utilizes recycled cotton as much as possible by shredding and re-spinning previously used cotton into yarn which is used to make new denim products (with their percentage in each piece being as high as 29%). Kuyichi also gets credit for using 60% less C02 emissions compared to traditional cotton (thanks to their exclusively organic content).
Bi-Annual Transparency Report
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Boyish prides themselves on their transparent approach to denim, allowing customers to see everything from chemicals and fabric to where they purchase their raw materials from. Most notably, Boyish uses just one third of the water of traditionally manufactured jeans, sustainably sourced hang tags and even hardware. Now that’s commitment.
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Frank and Oak
While their entire line has some sort of eco-conscience aspect, their denim in particular hits a home run by using recycled polyester sourced from discarded plastic bottles, in combination with eco friendly alternatives to harmful traditional dyes and a significant reduction in water use.
Kowtow’s line of eco friendly denim offers fair pay to their cotton farmers (protected by a fair trade certification) and uses exclusively organic cotton in their manufacturing, in addition to dying it’s textiles using an organic wash recipe certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). The New Zealand based brand has taken its sustainability efforts to a new level by sourcing only sustainable, nickel free tacks (a component of traditional jean buttons) for it’s collection, making it a stand out on the list.
While Everlane’s denim fits are classic, their manufacturing and process is something of a modern marvel, using LEED certified facilities that recycle 98% of its water, uses solar energy to dry the denim, and a five step water filtration system that safely removes any toxic dye chemicals from the processing water (which is the recirculated).
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Everlane takes sustainability one step further
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The brand uses a mix of organic cotton (which is grown in rotation to give the soil time to recover nutrients) and TENCEL™ lyocell, which comes from the pulp of trees and is processed in a closed loop cycle to make their form flattering styles. This in addition to their “climate credits” (carbon offsets) which can be purchased with your order.
In addition to manufacturing denim that lasts decades, Patagonia uses organic cotton grown in the USA that is dyed with a bio based formula derived from natural indigo (the original blue jean dye). On top of that, Patagonia’s innovative processes use at least 84% less water than standard denim. Now that’s an heirloom the kids can get excited about.